Cynical Theories Book Review

This is more of an overview than an in-depth review of the book, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity.

Overall, I think the book is well written and easily accessible to all readers, not just to those who are only interested in scholarly reading. The book sets out first to explain that Theory (that is the term used—with a capital “T”—to describe all critical theories) has its basis in postmodernism and more specifically in the works of Michel Foucault. Bottom line? For Theory, all epistemology and systems of thought are power grabs used to subdue the masses—specifically minorities of all types—in order to keep the white patriarchy on top.

It’s funny because as I read this I recalled some folks saying that post modernism is dead (mind you, I’m referring to forums and Facebook pages, not scholarly work). It’s obviously not. Or if it is, then Theory is the bright green sprout growing out of the corpse of postmodernism and growing stronger as more and more people become duped by its façade of caring and justice.

At the heart of Theory’s epistemology is perspective. If you are a white male then you could never understand what a person of any race is going through and you should just submit—oddly enough the authors who make this case are usually white, themselves… I’m looking at you, Robin DiAngelo!

What’s interesting is that Theory states a white person could never understand a person of color’s struggles—for example—because the person of color has lived experiences which a white person could never understand. Forget the fact that assuming all people of color are considered to be underprivileged—which is itself a racist thing to assume—the appeal to experience as the only valid source of knowledge is interesting because experiences are had by individuals and yet, under Theory, there are no individuals per sé. Everyone belongs to their group identity and everything is done for the group not the individual. So that seems to be self stultifying already.

Another thing that I personally believe destructs the whole argument is that if there is no common ground between the knowledge of, say, a white person and a black person due to experience that some in a privileged position could never understand then you could never expect a white person and a black person; or rather, a privileged person and a non-privileged person as assumed by Theory, to understand each other. Let alone even communicate. How could they?? They are so totally separated by experience that their knowledge creates such a huge chasm between them that any form of communication is lost, let alone understanding. Even if submission of white people was the answer—which it’s not—how could anyone expect that? If Theory is correct—again, it’s not—then anyone of a privileged position is so far removed that they could not understand anything about the underprivileged. Submit? Submit to what? And why? Because there are people less privileged? What does that even mean? If privileged people are so privileged then the idea of being underprivileged is so foreign that it is beyond all possibility of apprehension. On Theory’s view, of course.

Dr. Norman Geisler—my all time favorite philosopher and theologian—has always said moderate realism is the antidote to modern (postmodern) philosophy. I always remember that when I read stuff like this. Interesting enough, the authors posit a correspondence theory of truth to counter postmodernism. To that I say, amen. On this I agree. Truth is that which corresponds to reality and reality is that which is. It just is. While experience is important in some aspects and unimportant in others, we all live in reality. Any claims we make must correspond to reality. This isn’t a neutral ground, it is a common ground. Reality is undeniable. It is a first principle. The book doesn’t go this far into reality but merely posits a correspondence view of truth.

The authors of the book then go on to posit liberalism (not to be confused with political leftism). That is to say, we should all be free to discuss our worldviews and proposed solutions—right or wrong—in the marketplace of ideas. If we are wrong then we will be challenged by others and will either have to fix our errors or abandon our faulty worldview. In this way, liberalism is ever self-correcting. So far, so good. Where I disagreed was when the authors based this in humanism.

Fair enough, and that is to be expected. After all, the authors aren’t Christians. However, I believe that only in a Judeo-Christian worldview can you get such freedom. I’m not saying that any secular person isn’t free. Of course they are. What I’m saying is humanism as such is insufficient as a grounds for freedom. If God doesn’t exist then who’s to say the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins aren’t right? We’re determined by our DNA. Free will is an illusion. “It’s an illusion, Michael,” as Job from Arrested Development would say.

That we are free is undeniable. If you deny it, then you are freely denying your freedom. If you affirm determinism then you are still implicitly affirming your freedom in that you are functioning on the principle that you are free. If not then why argue? The other person is determined to believe that they are free. Do you have the power to change that? No. And yet, you feel the necessity—call it duty?—to object. Why? Because you are free to do so.

Freedom is only possible if there is a God who can give it.

Otherwise, we’re all slaves to our natural inclinations, dispositions and environments. Which we clearly aren’t. We can choose. That being the case, only a Judeo-Christian framework can ground that kind of liberalism in the marketplace of ideas.

All in all, great book. A good exposition of Theory with plenty of quotes and references from primary sources (Foucault, Crenshaw, Derida, Said, et all.) and a fairly strong secular critique of Theory. Definitely a recommended read for anyone interested in the subject.

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… [b]ut as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

Joshua 24:15

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